Janice, the three-legged deer

The old outhouse after the big storm.

The first measurable snow for southeastern Minnesota finally fell Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. For once, the forecasters were right and the blue radar showing snow kept track for us. For all 4 inches. The first blizzard is yet to show itself, but this is enough to declare winter formally “open.”



Wednesday morning, as I opened my blinds to see what damage had been done, I saw a deer prancing merrily down our street! Just as plucky as could be and perhaps with a destination in mind. She was prancing…not running. It was hilarious! And delightful!

As I stood there grinning, I remembered Janice. Janice was our plucky three-legged deer who appeared in the midst of a November blizzard, who became a precious part of our lives for several years.

We were living on an ancestral Swedish farm in the big log house that my husband’s Swedish immigrant grandfather had built in the late 1800’s and which we had restored. We had added a large great room which had big windows that looked out over our pasture and surrounding woods.

The blizzard snows were pelting the windows and making visibility difficult, but we were sitting comfortably watching the whole wondrous scene unfold when a shadow caught my eye over by the century-old three-hole outhouse. As it moved, I could see that it was a deer, perhaps seeking some protection from the hard-driving, deep snow.

As it came around the corner of the outhouse, we could see that something was wrong. It was a doe, and she was struggling, and not just with the deep snow. She was holding her left hind leg high up off the ground and trying to move against the raging snows with only her other three legs.

She had evidently been the victim of the last days of the deer hunting season, shot in the hip. And now she was in grave danger. She had escaped death, but now she had to adapt her life to rise above her disability if she were to survive.

We fed Janice some corn that day and throughout the rest of the winter, and she quickly learned to come for the day’s meals which saved her life.

We named her Janice, after a dear friend who had a severe and debilitating stroke in her 50’s. Our friend, Janice, was a warrior, a woman who fiercely kept her independence even though her right side was increasingly weaker as she grew older. She could barely use her right arm, but that didn’t stop her. Our intrepid three-legged dear had earned the name.

In the spring, we always enjoyed seeing the new crop of fawns in our neighborhood. But Janice was not one of the new mothers with babies in tow this year. Janice and her crippled hip continued to come to the feeder, but we also watched as she tried so hard to mother one of the twin fawns which another doe brought to the yard. To no avail. Does are protective of their offspring, and interlopers are not welcome.

So Janice was an outcast, alone and with no family to relate to. She was in our hearts, though, and we continued to meet her every day. It was hard to watch her loneliness. And she learned to trust us.

Another winter passed, and another spring returned. This year, as she had done every morning, Janice came into the yard to have her breakfast. But this time, she did not return alone. She brought her darling little fawn on that beautiful morning, and we were as happy as grandparents as we watched her eagerly nurse.

It was as if Janice were showing off her little one to us. She stood proud and regal, no longer alone, a mother now, caring for her beloved. She had family now.

Janice would have three more fawns over the next springs. She would nurse them within our eyesight, and she would hide them during the day in the deep grasses of our pasture, not far from the house. She was always the perfect mother.

She could leap up onto her one hind leg just long enough to threaten any encroaching deer who was trying to take over the restaurant! And she always won.

We named each fawn. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a single name, except for the last one. The first few fawns were all does. So the last year, we named her offspring, “Sophia.” By late summer, “Sophia” came closer to the house for the first time, and I could see that “she” had two little nubbins on the top of “her” head. She was a he!! A buck! I asked Dwight what we should name him instead. He paused. “Sophocles!” he declared. Perfect!

That fall, on the last evening of the deer hunting season, Janice did not escape the hunter’s bullet. The following morning, we knew that she was gone, as Sophocles wandered into the yard alone. We were heartbroken. And so grateful that this brave deer had brought her precious life to us with trust.

Sophocles had to leave, of course. Does can stay in the territory where they are born and raised, but in nature’s economy, a buck must find new territory. It was only right. He had to fend for himself now. We silently wished him well. He had been well prepared by his doting mother for his new life.

So why do I tell this story?

Because Janice’s pluck and steadfastness were just as much a choice for her as it is for us humans. She would not give up because her life was now more difficult – and perhaps painful and lonely at times. She lived out her destiny: to bring life into the world and nurture it for whatever its destiny would become.

As I grouse in the mornings about the pains of my spreading arthritis and the aches and stiffness that greet my body as I get out of bed; as I sometimes live the day as if I have been unjustly stricken¬†with the ravages of my old body,¬†I sometimes realize that I’ve given over too much to the illusion that comfort is my due!

Life happens. But so does grace. When we bring some grit and purpose and hope and love to our lives,  grace returns to us all that we need.

If a hobbled doe can show us grace and grit, trust and purpose; love and acceptance; stamina and sacrifice; if she can show us courage and resilience – then we just might remember that our life is still an incomparable gift.

It’s all in the attitude with which we begin and end each day.

Oh, the animals! They have so much to teach us!

And I’m very okay with that!